The Australian Communications Authority (ACA) has released a discussion paper calling for industry and community comment on the future of VoIP.
The call for response is aimed at identifying possible regulatory challenges resulting from the increased availability of VoIP services, and drafting recommendations to the government on how those challenges might be met.
ACA senior executive manager telecommunications, John Hayden, said the paper was forward-looking in nature.
"We have observed that the industry has been able to work within the existing regime," he said.
"But the issue is whether the current regulatory requirements mean that the full capabilities of VoIP don't get realised, or whether additional costs are being incurred which mean prices to consumers aren't as low as they could be."
While the ACA was not seeking feedback on specific services, Hayden said the regulatory body expected the bulk of comments to be around issues such as universal service, access to emergency call services and consumer safeguards.
"The industry has some hang-ups around the idea of a telephone service and the kinds of provisions, such as number portability and pre-selection, and quality of service, attached to it," he said.
With VoIP currently being used extensively in corporate networks, the increasing popularity of broadband was prompting suppliers to start targeting the residential market, Hayden said.
"In the corporate space VoIP is often used as a VPN and there are different expectations around quality, compared to the residential space," he said.
"Providers will make their own judgements about what is workable, but different people have different expectations."
Despite the fact that Australian VoIP providers were subject to current regulatory arrangements for voice services, the ACA was taking an open-ended approach to current non-negotiables such as the universal service obligation, Hayden said.
"It is up to those who are in the businesses of providing new services using these technologies to tell us what barriers are in the road of extended services to consumers," he said.
"It may be possible to implement those functions in a way that is different from what was originally envisaged under the [regulatory] regime and yet achieve the same benefit for the country and consumers."
The ACA did not rule out the possibility of recommending to the Government that VoIP be regulated under a different Act, should enough submissions arguing for the change be received, a spokesperson said.
Submissions to the ACA closed on 31 December. The results of the discussion paper are due in March 2005.